War Made Easy, a documentary narrated by Sean Penn and featuring the careful analysis of dissident journalist Norman Solomon, opened across the U.S. several months ago. It is still in theatres, and also being screened at house parties and other public presentations by anti-war groups including Veterans for Peace as a spur to encourage work for peace. An adaptation of Solomon’s 2005 book of the same name, the film goes further than most recent documentaries on the current Iraq war by not merely looking at Bush Administration mismanagement or avarice, but also examining propaganda that the U.S. military and government repeatedly use to, as Solomon puts it, “keep spinning us to death.”
As such, the film does less to let Democrats off the hook than other recent examinations of George W’s Iraq disaster. Democratic Presidents including Lyndon Johnson are shown lying shamelessly about U.S. military action in Vietnam and elsewhere, and news clips show Bill Clinton and other Democrats who were quick to wage war insisting, as do their their Republican counterparts, that launching mass slaughter is the last thing they want to do.
Solomon points out that on mainstream TV, “if you’re pro-war, you’re ‘objective,’ but if you’re anti-war, you’re ‘biased.'” Three weeks before the 2003 invasion of Baghdad, doveish Phil Donahue was axed even though he had the highest rated show on MSNBC, while the notoriously pro-military Fox News repeatedly described George Bush as if he was Gary Cooper about to do battle with the forces of evil in a Hollywood western rather than a chief of state about to launch a war that would kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.
In dissecting how ever-more simplistic sound bites are used to sell wars, Solomon rightly points out, “it’s more powerful to leave things out than to tell lies.” In numerous cases, chief among the omissions is relevant history of past Washington support for the dictator du jour. As media critic Jeff Cohen notes in the film, “Journalists, too many of them — some quite explicitly — have said that they see their mission as helping the war effort. And if you define your mission that way, you’ll end up suppressing news that might be important, accurate, but maybe isn’t helpful to the war effort.”
And of course, if the end is noble, justification is that much easier. In Solomon’s words, “war becomes perpetual when it’s used as a rationale for peace.”
Footage from vintage cold war propaganda about the “international criminal conspiracy” of “godless” socialism looks like perverse comic relief until Solomon notes how closely the overheated “red scare” rhetoric parallels George Bush’s “axis of evil” scare-mongering.
Alas, hyperbolic jingoism continues to be repeated like clockwork as the military industrial complex pushes yet another war for dubious reasons. Recently, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice claimed “the policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge to American security interests in the Middle East and around the world.” Less noted in the US mainstream press was the fact that Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reports that there is no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iran. ElBaradei based his judgment on the findings of IAEA inspectors in Iran, as when he made a similar observation about Iraq in early 2003.
The Washington Post reported on memos written by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in which the armchair warrior “wrote of the need to ‘keep elevating the threat,’ ‘link Iraq to Iran’ and develop ‘bumper sticker statements’ to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.”
In pondering the current state of U.S. foreign policy, two figures cited at the conclusion of War Made Easy stand out. One is independent journalist I.F. Stone, who noted the importance of remembering that “all governments lie.” The other is Martin Luther King, Jr, who the film shows saying, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”